Arts & CultureMusic

Review: Japandroids’ ‘Near To The Wild Heart Of Life’ is worth the four year wait

There are certain things the two-piece Canadian rock band Japandroids have always done on their records: release tightly crafted eight-song albums; create anthemic songs perfectly fit for adrenaline-fueled parties; and rely on sheer passion and sweat-drenched performances to power their songs.

There are certain things Japandroids have never done on a record: use an acoustic guitar, synthesizer, or more than the duo’s vocals, drums and guitar (with the exception of rhythm guitar loops and chorus vocals) on any song.

Luckily, the band’s first album since 2012’s Celebration Rock combines the tried-and-true Japandroids formula while also venturing into these new, unconquered territories. Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is the product of a band that fully embraces its past, but has also carefully considered how to move forward by improving its range of sounds.

Wild Heart picks up right where Celebration Rock leaves off. That album begins and ends with timid fireworks crackling, setting the stage for the celebration to begin — few albums have titles that describe the content so perfectly. Near To The Wild Heart Of Life’s titular track begins with a similar fade-in, this time with David Prowse’s explosive accented drum pattern stepping in for the recorded fireworks.

Singer and guitarist Brian King joins in with a fiery guitar riff, then wastes no time in jumping to the core of the album’s message about leaving and returning home, and pursuing dreams and a better future:

“The future’s under fire / The past is gaining ground / A continuous Cold War between my home and my hometown / I was destined to die dreaming when one day my best friend / With passion and pure provocation summoned me and said / ‘You can’t condemn your love to linger here and die / Can’t leave your dreams to chance or to a spirit in the sky.’ ”

This is an album that is set on not only escaping home, but on conquering the world.

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Cover artwork for Japandroids’ third studio album, ‘Near To The Wild Heart Of Life. Brian King, left, plays guitar and vocals. David Prowse, right plays drums and sings as well. (Courtesy of Grandstand Media)

Japandroids toured the world extensively after Celebration Rock then took three years off to assimilate back into civilian life. After messing with Texas and Tennessee, King sings on “North East South West,” “No matter how much I fan the flames / Canada always answers when I call her name.” The song is the first in the group’s history to use an acoustic guitar, but it’s not as jarring as it might seem. Instead, it becomes a new color in the band’s palette that blends with the ever-present electric guitars throughout.

The album’s sonic qualities are as large as its ambitions. Wild Heart has a polished sheen about it, but it’s a natural progression from where the pair started on 2009’s lo-fi Post Nothing. The rest of Wild Heart continues with a similarly large sound, none of which are more pronounced than the seven minute centerpiece, “Arc Of Bar.”

Beginning with a simple five-note dissolving synthesizer riff, “Arc Of Bar” slowly evolves into a wall of sound unlike any Japandroids song before it. With backup singers, commanding synthesizer riffs, rung-out guitar power chords and colossal drums, it’s hard to believe this is the same band that wrote “Wet Hair.”

This is a sound that is no longer aiming to reach the back of bars, but rather, the rafters in arenas.

“No Known Drink Or Drug” and “In A Body Like A Grave” end the album with an affirmation of the band’s new direction. Both songs have more than two instruments, but in the duration of the 36-minute album, the acoustic guitars and keyboards that once seemed like an alien element for Japandroids have already become natural.

Where Celebration Rock and Post-Nothing thrived on impetuous blasts of carefree energy, Wild Heart attacks similar issues with a mellower, more nuanced approach. It channels the heart-on-the-sleeve desperation for parties and youthful energy found in their earlier catalog, but it also finds a band that is comfortably transitioning into the next stage of life.

Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is the type of album listeners can only hope a band returns with after an extended absence. It’s entirely new, but owes everything to the past.

Follow Craig on Twitter: @wgwcraig

Listen to “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” below:

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Craig Wright

Craig Wright

Craig is the senior arts and culture editor for the Emerald. He is from West Linn, Oregon, and is a senior majoring in journalism at the UO. He has made Nick Frost laugh and has been deemed to be "f---ed up in the head" by legendary thrash-metal band Slayer.